Open gubernatorial debate beyond two parties

University students credit themselves as being open-mined, forward-thinking individuals. In recent elections, students supported a wide range of candidates, some outside the two-party system. Why the Student Legislative Coalition, an organization supposedly representative of students, failed to reflect this and include Green Party candidates in its Wednesday gubernatorial debate is a mystery.

Heralded as a non-partisan, independent student organization, SLC’s exclusion of Green Party candidates in a debate on a campus with steadily increasing Green Party support makes this claim suspect. In the 2000 presidential elections, Ralph Nader received 16 percent of the Ward 2 vote, where most University students are registered, and in the recent City Council elections, Green Party delegate Cam Gordon received 49 percent of the ward’s votes. Student support of Green Party candidates is blatant and undeniable; an organization of students, and supposedly for students, should respect this.

The SLC extended invitations to five candidates: Democrats Roger Moe, Becky Lourey and Judi Dutcher, and Republicans Brian Sullivan and Tim Pawlenty. They say the number was limited in order to facilitate debate and discussion, and they claim to have chosen candidates based on three pre-existing, objective criteria: ability to raise funds, name recognition and, for the candidates who ran in a previous election, ability to garner 15 percent of the vote. According to the SLC, the candidate must meet only one of the requirements to be included. These criteria were voted on by the SLC board and were not made public until receipt of inquiries by those outraged at the Green Party’s exclusion.

These criteria are inherently flawed. First, not all candidates have run in previous elections, and those who have, such as Ken Pentel, have since amassed greater support. Second, the amount of funds the SLC sees as necessary to render a candidate serious is between $2 million and $5 million, quashing the hopes of any candidate but one from a major party. It is also significant to note that Jesse Ventura ran his successful campaign with slightly more than $1 million. Last, “name recognition” for the SLC is based on hits to the candidates found on Star Tribune and Pioneer Press Web sites. Naturally, the Green Party, which acquired major-party status in 2000, has previously been snuffed in traditional media, and few or no references to them would be found there. Now the SLC is in the process of “clarifying” these criteria, and claim they will augment the line-up for the debate as necessary.

The SLC has noble aims in its organization of Wednesday’s gubernatorial forum. However, if it fails to represent all the options available to students, it will do a disservice to the campus. Although no election laws govern the activities of the nonprofit SLC, it should be mindful of the University community – where students’ values and political mores are as diverse as their majors – and allow parties fair representation.